Monday 25 January 2016

The Doctrine of the Trinity: Order and Unity among the Three Persons

There are seven tents of the doctrine of the Trinity which need to be all held with equal ultimacy if we are to uphold an orthodox doctrine of the Trinity? What are they? They are:

1. One Being-Three Persons
2. One Essence (homoousios)
3. The Three Persons are Distinct (hypostases)
4. The Mutual Indwelling of the Persons (perichōresis)
5. There is an order among the Persons (monarchia, autotheos, taxis)
6. Three Personal Communion (koinōnia)
7. Knowable and yet unknowable

It is point 5 that is the object of this blog post.

The notion of an order (taxis) requires some clarification because within this trinitarian context it does not imply an idea of rank or hierarchy within the Triune God, but rather an ordered constitution. The clear pattern of order is: from the Father, through the Son, by the Holy Spirit; and this order pervades everything. Cyril understood that the Father is said to be greater than the Son only economically, and therefore he allowed no foothold for subordination in the Holy Trinity. Likewise John Calvin again comes to our aid in his description of this trinitarian orderliness: ‘To the Father is attributed the beginning of activity, and the fountain and wellspring of all things; to the Son, wisdom, counsel, and the ordered disposition of all things; but to the Spirit is assigned the power and efficacy of that activity.’

If you want further reading on this you can refer to Calvin's Institutes 1:13:18, p 142-3 or my books on the Trinity which are thus far "The Church as the Image of the Trinity" or a Chapter on the Trinity in the book "Engaging with Keller".

There are many theologians who want to accept orthodoxy on many points of the doctrine of the Trinity and yet they reject that there is an eternal order among the Three Persons of the Trinity. This notion is used to support egalitarianism and the ordination of women bishops and women ministers in the church. This is something plainly rejected by Scripture.

These theologians include:

Kevin Giles
Jürgen Voltmann
Miroslav Volf
Catherine Mowry LaCugna
Rowan Williams (and many of the Western Episcopal/Anglican leaders)
Judith Gundry-Volf
(To name a few.)

Though Tim Keller may not explicitly state a concurrence with a rejection of ordered relations in the Trinity, he effectually supports this with his flawed "dance metaphor" for the Trinity.

The invasion of feminist ideas has washed over the bows of certain constituencies of the evangelical world. What are some of the lessons? Kevin Giles firmly upholds the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son and we support him in this, however, his understanding of an eternal order among the Three Persons of the Trinity is wrongly labelled by him as "subordinationism". He uses this in a pejorative and a wrong sense. It is most dangerous to be right in most parts of the doctrine of the Trinity and yet wrong in others. We must all ensure that we work hard in understanding the doctrine of the Trinity so that we worship our God rightly. To go wrong on this doctrine, can lead to serious implications on our ecclesiology and our Christian faith.

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